Why do HOAs have so many rules?

By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities

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One of my readers sent me a link to an excerpt from a book published in 2009, entitled New Neighborhoods, written by the late Gary A. Poliakoff and his son Ryan Poliakoff.

According to the publiser’s website, Gary was an attorney and law professor with experience in community association / HOA law. Ryan is a former attorney who left his practice to pursue a career as a writer and author.

You can read a portion of Chapter 10, Not in My Castle (Rules and Regulations) here:

http://www.newneighborhoodspublishing.com/excerpt.php

Although the subtitle refers to this book as a consumer guide, I would respectfully disagree. Based upon the portions of the book I have read, in my opinion, it’s more of a reference book containing standard HOA indsutry rhetoric, more or less aligned with Public Policies of trade group Community Associations Institute (CAI).

For example, take this passage from Chapter 10:

The vast majority of rules are designed to regulate interaction between neighbors and to ensure that each can enjoy their property as undisturbed as possible. Rules designed to protect the common elements and prevent the deterioration of property values, however, make up a very important minority. These are the rules that govern how your shutters look or what you can do to your balcony. In general, every rule belongs to one of these two categories: avoiding conflict or protecting property. And some actually do both.

Blah, blah, blah.

Uh, no. The vast majority of rules have nothing to do with health, safety, preventing damage, or preserving quiet enjoyment. Instead, they are matters of personal taste or opinion.

From a consumer perspective, Poliakoffs have ignored several key distinctions to classify rules. Here’s how they’re really classified:

  • Essential rules (health, safety — this would inclule prohibitions on litter, accumulation of debris, exceeding weight limit for balconies, cluttering up stairs and hallways, not picking up after your pet, waist-high grass and weeds, hoarding, filth, etc. as well as common sense rules meant to prevent crime)
  • Rules of consideration for others (reasonable prevention nuisances from noise, foul odors, or general disturbances that prevent neighbors from quiet enjoyment of their property)
  • Prohibition and prevention of damage to, or abuse of, common areas
  • Prohibition and prevention of damage to neighboring properties
  • Share and share alike rules (so that no one person or group hogs up the common areas, amenities)
  • Everything else: architectural or landscape design standards, aesthetic standards (often based on the developer’s or Board member’s preferences or ego trip), matters of personal taste or preference or personal expression, use of private property that does not disturb others except for creating a perceived “eyesore” for a few obsessive control freaks.)

I think most of us can agree that it is the “everything else” category of restrictions and rules that cause most of the conflict. All the other rules are generally agreed upon as reasonable and necessary, and, in most places (Texas being an exception) these matters are already addressed by local zoning, building codes, state laws, and local ordinances.

“Everything else” rules generate conflict rather than avoid it. And it can be argued that they diminish property values for all but the most austere and rigid personalities.

And, might I add, smart and thoughtful and design and planning can prevent real problems and disturbances. For example, planning to have ample room for parking, garage storage, trash can storage; minimizing shared walls and using materials to reduce transmission of sound and odors; architectural and landscape planning for privacy and ease of maintenance; good lighting and visibility to prevent mischief and crime; making it easy for residents to dispose of trash and pet waste; providing safe spaces for children and pets to play and run around; planning for low-maintenance common areas. (Just to cite a few suggestions).

Unfortunately, most developers don’t care about good design as much as they care about maximizing profits. That usually means keeping construction costs low and squeezing in as many homes/units as possible.

Finally…drum roll please…the greatest source of conflict (and corruption) comes down to one thing: MONEY.

There’s generally little agreement among owners and residents as to how much money should be collected and how it should be spent. It is why common interest development does not work as originally intended.

Rules, regulations and property values

Most rules and regulations in Association-Governed Communities are created by real estate developers long before the first sale, without consulting future consumers. Uniform or specific aesthetic standards and restrictions upon use of private property may benefit developers and co-investors who create and profit from building common interest communities.

However, consumers – real people – generally don’t like to be heavily regulated, especially without good reason. So the HOA industry, in order to sell the concept of shared ownership, had to invent a compelling reason for creating so many rules: protecting property values.

The industry has insisted for more than 40 years that rules and regulations are necessary and, if not consistently enforced, the value of your property will surely plummet.

A minority of True Believers in the HOA concept seem firmly convinced that the Association member who doesn’t follow rules and regulations must be intentionally and selfishly driving down their personal net worth!

Thus the rationale for swift and consistent punishment of the wayward rule-breaker, no matter how petty or silly the rule may be, and even if there’s little likelihood of adversely affecting neighborhood real estate sale prices.

You see, it all comes back to conflict over the MONEY.

And who benefits from inevitable conflicts over rules and regulations? Mainly, HOA attorneys. Because, to resolve these conflicts, property owners have few alternatives. They must either pay fines and endure penalties dished out by their HOA, or lawyer up and procede to civil court. Win, lose, or draw, the HOA attorney is paid handsomely for each billable hour.

As usual, HOA consumers lose.

Origins of planned communities, HOAs

And now, for something fun. Here’s a folk song from the 1960s, poking fun at excessive social conformity at the time. Check out the pictures of the homes and neighborhoods in this video.

“They’re all made of ticky tacky and the all look just the same!”

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